Did you know that turtles and tortoises are more than 200 million years old? Today’s species are distant relatives to turtles and tortoises that roamed the earth even before the dinosaurs. Their bodies are protected by a hard shell on top of their bodies as well as underneath. The shell cannot be removed as the backbone, breastbone and ribs have evolved as part of the shell.
A Ton of Fun
So how do you decide which species is best for you? There are several different types of turtles and tortoises, each with their own set of unique needs. It is pretty important to remember that turtles and tortoises can grow quite large. Doing your research before you bring one home will help you anticipate their full adult size and the amount of care required to keep them healthy. From there, chose a turtle or tortoise that best suits your experience level and lifestyle. Turtles and tortoises make fascinating pets; they can be lots of fun to observe and interact with, but they also have very specific feeding, housing, and general care requirements. The more time you devote to researching the needs of these reptiles, the easier it will be for you to determine whether they will make a good pet for you. Before purchasing a turtle or tortoise, make sure you understand exactly how to care for these reptiles.
Both turtles and tortoises are reptiles that are cold-blooded. This means that their bodies are the same temperature as the surrounding air or water that they are in. The main difference between the two is their habitat and diet. Most turtles spend much of their time in the water, tend to have webbed feet and are omnivores. As turtles cannot remain active during the winter, they hibernate and usually burry themselves deep in the warm mud at the bottom of a stream, pond or lake. Tortoises are land-dwellers with a high dome-shaped shell, round stumpy feet and are herbivores. There are about 40 different kinds of tortoise. Some live in hot desert areas, others live in mountains or forests. Like turtles, they cannot keep themselves active during the winter and will also hibernate. When they hibernate, tortoises bury themselves in soil or under rotting plants.
Herptile at Home
Designing a habitat for your turtle is a great project. Some essential habitats include land and swimming areas for turtles. Adequate space, lighting and warmth are important to better maintain the right temperature. Keep the species in mind when designing the habitat to ensure all basic requirements are met. Remember to purchase a tank that is approximately five times longer than the turtle, four times wider and one and a half times taller from head to tail. Each environment should grow by 25% per turtle if you plan on housing more than one. For tortoises, a 40-gallon or larger glass terrarium with a screened lid for ventilation will work just fine. Remember to keep the species in mind as tortoises can grow fairly large. Tortoises will need enough room for a shallow water dish. Tortoises do like to soak their shells so make sure to have a shallow dish large enough for your tortoise to move around in. A dry hiding place will be much appreciated by your tortoise as they like to conceal themselves on occasion.
Cold Blood & Warm Hearts
Both turtles and tortoises require UV lighting to help maintain their shell and bone structure. Two basic types of lighting are available: incandescent (for heat) and fluorescent (for essential health). It is advisable to provide your turtle or tortoise with 12 hours of daylight every day using both UVA and UVB fluorescent bulbs. Regular basking is a favourite passtime for both turtles and tortoises as it keeps their body temperatures regulated. Providing a basking bulb in a heat lamp is essential as turtles and tortoises are ectothermic (cold blooded) and cannot generate their own body heat.
One Shell of a Diet
Turtles and tortoises have a rather exotic palate when it comes to nutrition. Prepared turtle foods in pellet form are a great source of dietary vitamins and minerals. In addition to pellets, turtles enjoy leafy greens such as kale and collard greens. As turtles are known to eat some meats, crickets and mealworms make a fantastic addition to meals. For optimum health, a balanced diet of pellets, insects and leafy greens is important. Tortoises vary slightly in diet. They are strictly herbivores and will do quite well with prepared tortoise foods, leafy greens such as kale, dandelion greens and collard greens, fresh vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash and cauliflower, and some fruits such as apples, melons and grapes. It is important to provide your tortoise with a diet of mainly leafy greens and vegetables with limited fruits. Both turtles and tortoises require calcium. Calcium is extremely important in the overall maintenance of their bones and shell. You can purchase calcium supplements and ‘dust’ their foods twice a week.
Love Them for Life
Whether you purchase a turtle or a tortoise you will definitely enjoy learning about these unique reptiles. Building their habitats is a lot of fun and very rewarding. Turtles and tortoises are a long term commitment and those that are well cared for can be expected to live for 50 years (some species can live to be 100!). So enjoy your unique reptile and note that your turtle or tortoise is one of the world’s oldest creatures so when you make this commitment, it is often for a lifetime.